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Starfleet At Heart

Posted on Thu Feb 28th, 2019 @ 12:31pm by Lieutenant Commander Mnhei'sahe Dox & Commander Rita Paris

Mission: Recovery Trek
Location: USS Hera, Deck 11, Holosuite 2
Timeline: 2396

As a runner by both hobby and survival on a great many of her adventures, Rita Paris loved to get a different view from time to time when she ran. Sometimes it was deck 8, sometimes it was Deck 12, and as of today, she had officially been chastised for attempting to run the docking ring of DS9, as apparently, she represented a safety hazard running through the wide and spacious corridors of the enormous Cardassian-designed space station. Which made little sense to her, as the first beings she encountered were the security personnel sent to apprehend her after she’s already run 12 kilometers.

Making her way back to the starship feeling mildly rejected, Rita realized that she still wanted to run. It cleared her mind, gave her time to think things over and read between the lines, and her proficiency as a runner had saved her life more times than Sonak, and that was saying a lot. While her usual tracks were, of course, available to her, she realized that she didn’t want to just run the decks. Her outing had awakened a desire for something different, so she considered her options.

There was always the holodeck, of course.

While she often brought up the nature trail at Starfleet Academy to run, as it was a small piece of her past that was mostly unchanged since her own attendance in the 2250’s, she often found it to be lonely to run it alone. Having the computer simulate cadets running alongside her helped, but it was not the same. There was the possibility of just about anywhere, but as the universe she had come from was different than the one she now inhabited, calling up old locales tended to just make her wistful and sad rather than relaxed and calmed. Besides, who really needed to run the G’loff Glacier in southwestern Dronk on Andoria?

There was one note of variety that had been quite keen to her, though, and that was Mnhei’sahe Dox’ outer hull programs, whereupon one could run in the hull as if the starship were in atmosphere. It always reminded her of the time she’d done it on Lexington Station, on the hull of the USS Exeter as she was docked there in quarantine and Rita was frustrated by her inability to actually do her job. Years later and another dimension over, she still enjoyed the sensation. After all, even as accustomed as she had become to the EVA armor of the modern day, there was nothing like just running free, yet doing so in the void of space to her mind.

Tapping the antique Starfleet delta that served as her comm badge, Rita spoke aloud. “Commander Paris to Lieutenant Dox. I’m looking to go for a run on the hull- think you might have time to join me on the duranium hull of an antique?” she asked playfully.

Meanwhile, in the flight control department, it's Chief was putting in a little over time as was usual for the red-headed Romulan pilot when her comm badge chirped with the call from the Hera's gregarious First Officer.

"Uh... Yeah, sure. I could use a break, actually. I can be there in ten minutes. I just need to save some files I'm working on and change." Dox replied, tapping her badge as she spoke. "Be right there, Commander."

“If it’s a bad time you don’t have to, Dox,” Paris countered as the lack of enthusiasm was noted. “Just a request, not an order.” After having been thrown off a space station twice in the past week, Paris was a bit thinner-skinned than normal. “I can go it alone, no worries.”

"Huh? No... Please, I'd like to. I need to peel away from the desk and a run sounds great. Promise. Be right there." Less distracted, Dox's tone was much lighter this time.

“All right. Holodeck 2, I’ll be warming up,” Paris responded stepping inside and considering just how she would kill the time.

After the allotted time had elapsed, the doors wooshed open as Mnhei'sahe Dox came in with a smile, dressed in black leggings, red running shoes and a command crimson tank top with the Starfleet delta printed in the center. In the center of the room was a long table with a small net in the middle and Rita Paris, clad in some mid-calf length running shorts and a hot pink tank top emblazoned the the legend 'Just Do It' was playing ping pong with a lanky human with a tightly cropped haircut that seemed exceptionally good at the game.

There was a table in the academy common room so Dox wasn't unfamiliar with the game, but it was still an unexpected sight as she tilted her head quizzically with a grin. "Hello, Commander."

"Hi!" Paris didn't look up as she continued battling her opponent with the hand-sized paddle and the 4 CM white ball which knocked against the table with a distinctive clicking sound. For nearly eight seconds she managed to volley her opponent, but then she leaned too far and he skillfully shot wide, and he took the point. Offering her hand, the polite pilot shook her holographic opponent's hand. "I cede the match. You played very well."

"Thank you, you too," he replied in an awkward hurried speech.

Turning to regard her chubby chum, the curvaceous commander offered a smile. "Let's see how much the computer likes me. Computer?" Rita called out to the overhead. "What's the name of the captain's Miranda class pirate vessel, Computer?"

There was a pause, then came the answer.

=^= The Captain's private vessel is the Manticore =^=

"No USS, which makes sense," Rita observed. "Computer, can you holographically reproduce the Manticore? We'd like to do some running on the hull, to get a feel for her." Turning to regard the ship's pilot, Rita Paris shrugged broadly, palms up.

=^= Affirmative =^= the computer responded.

"It's what I do. I gotta get a feel for her on the outside too, y'know? You and I are both going to be in this battle with her mother, so let's kill two birds with one stone, get a jog and get a feel for what we'll be doing it with. You in?" This wasn't a command duty nor a teaching exercise. In this, they were both equals, both with a stake in it, and neither had an advantage. This would be a challenge that they would face together. So instead of ordering, the lost pilot asked the Romulan privateer to indulge her in preparation for a trial by fire they'd soon face.

"I've prepped a bridge sim. It's ready to go. I've studied the available specs, but I haven't sat in her yet." Dox nodded slightly as she leaned forward, stretching out her calves in preparation for the run. "No time like the present to get started. Familiar ourselves with her."

Turning her neck to the side, there was mild but audible pop from Dox's neck. "One of the reasons I build exterior sims and walk them is to be able to visualize the exterior dimensions properly. The numbers are fine, but for me I like to feel how big a ship is. How much room I'll really have when maneuvering. From what I've heard about the Captain's mother, we'll need every advantage we can get."

"One thing at a time, then... let's take a jog, Miss Dox," Rita smiled, that million-watt smile that she only pulled out when she was genuinely happy. "You really do get it, Mnhei'sahe. I'm glad we're in this together."

"Computer, please place us on the dorsal saucer section of the Manticore, on the prow, if you please," Rita asked of the ship's computer, which obliged her by presenting the saucer section of the Miranda class vessel, placing both of them on the lip at the most forward point, with a great view.

Which was painted a shade of pink remarkably close to Rita's obnoxious t-shirt.

Looking down at the expanse of pink hull, Dox's eyes went wide as a smile crept across her face. "Wow. That... Is a LOT of Pink. Didn't read this in the technical specs."

"Unexpected, for sure. Wow. Looks like a Pepto Bismol tablet," Rita offered, referring to an ancient stomach remedy that still survived to the modern day. "Okay, so... impressions. Rollbar, which gives us additional torpedo launchers, fore and aft I'd wager, given her captain. I've always loved these... that whole 'sled' designs always looked a lot more efficient to my eye. Don't get me wrong, I'll always love the old Constitution Class, but the Miranda was a brilliant, compact redesign. Those built up rows of decks on the saucer to accommodate Engineering? That's just good redesign, engineered from what they learned from the Constitution."

Looking the ship over, Dox could only see what was visible from their vantage point on the top of the saucer, but she was familiar with the basics of design of the classic Miranda class. "It's much more compact. A much tighter design for increased maneuverability. In a lot of ways, the precursor to our own Nebula Class lady. That roll bar and torpedo bay is where our Pod is. The Nacelles are tucked tighter under the saucer. The power demands of the Nebula required a separate engineering section, but in many respects, the Manticore should move like a scaled-down version of the Hera."

Leaning slightly over the edge of the.saucer to try and get a glimpse of the Nacelles, Dox continued. "There's a visual elegance to the Constitutions, the Galaxy, the Ambassador, and the Sovereign. Those long, swept lines are beautiful. But this design is tight. It will serve us well to have a smaller profile in a conflict."

"Agreed. She's maneuverable and compact. Cap'n told me her mother is fond of ramming and boarding... if we can lure her in and keep her from connecting, I can carve her up like a turkey in a hurry if you can get me inside her shields," Rita offered. "I'm glad we're talking about this now. We make a good team, you and I, but advance planning will pay off because he mother will know Enalia's moves- but not ours. We're the x-factor- she doesn't know about your piloting skill, nor my familiarity of the capabilities of these beauties in ship to ship combat."

"Agreed. The Captain... in flight combat... she doesn't give me coordinates or tell me what maneuvers to perform. Nothing out of the playbook. She just tells me what she needs done and leaves the 'how' to me." Dox looked at Rita with a slight smile. "And the tactical station here, it should be like going home for you. If we start out with some Starfleet textbook moves, let her think she's got the advantage, we can have the element of surprise."

"Let's take a look below decks, shall we? Computer, as per Lieutenant Dox's other programs, keep the gravity plane with us as we move." With that said, Rita Paris stepped over the lip of the saucer to begin walking over Deck 5 on the way to Deck 6 with Dox close behind. "She ought to have phaser emitters and torpedoes below- thinking exposing out bellies might be an unexpected move getting that close, as that roll bar is a bit of a hindrance maneuvering in collision alert conditions- thoughts?"

"It's unexpected. We let her get in close and make it look like a panic evasion to avoid being rammed and we can do just what you need. Get inside her shields and have a full spread ready to rake her dorsal side." Dox crossed to the ventral side of the saucer to see the massive Warp Nacelles. "That's the primary problem with exposing our belly. It exposes out Nacelles to both impact and weapons fire. The roll bar is a potential hindrance, but one that won't cripple us if it's rammed or disabled."

Trailing off as she thought, Dox snapped around to Rita as she thought. "The Roll Bar. Yeah, it's our primary Photon torpedo launcher... but in an emergency... we can use it as a hook if necessary. It would be crazy and dangerous... but if she likes ramming, letting her tag the rollbar, we could hook the bow of her own ship. A controlled thrust at the right moment and we could flip the nose of her ship upside down." Then Dox thought about it.

"No, that's... that would leave us just as vulnerable. Hnave." She cursed in Rihan as she thought out loud. "What's wrong with her that she's so desperate for power that she would put her own daughter through this?"

“Your own mother is not that dissimilar, Miss Dox,” Rita observed as she casually strode across Decks 6 and 7. “It’s about control. They believe in something- a cause, a legacy, a birthright. That gives them the rationale that whatever they do is righteous and excusable. I suspect we’ll find out through the course of this what a disappointment Enalia is to her mother, how if only she had been obedient and done as she was told all would be well now”

“Same as Asa’s father, same as mine, likely the same as yours," Rita stepped over to begin walking across the ventral hull of the Manticore. “It all boils down to control, because they feel they know best and their children for whom they did all this are just ingrates. Really, it’s about achieving immortality, for their lives and deeds to live on beyond them- their grasp at immortality is desiring a clone of them to continue. When that doesn’t pan out, they lose it and blame their willful children. Because how dare you want your own life- clearly mine as your parent is far too important. It is just short-sighted selfishness in the end, that costs them the very thing they seek.”

"Yeah... I know it but I still ask why, which is stupid. It just... It's just so frustrating to see this repeat over and over again no matter what we do. Sorry, Commander. Just having a moment." Dox took a breath to compose herself.

"Hmm... 'the very thing they seek'. She wants the Captain to replace her properly or get out of the way by giving her an heir. Is there a way we can use what she wants to get her off balance. Bring the fight under our terms?"

"That will be during the Tribunal. So long as she has some genetic material to work with the cap'n's mother will likely be fine with eliminating Enalia- as you said- as an obstacle to her plans. How to work that I do not know. But we'll bear it in mind. As for the repeating pattern," the time-tosses tactician spread her hands, palms up. “Patterns of abuse. I promise to watch for you doing it to your kids. Because damned if I will treat mine like my father did.”

"Not planning on any of those anytime soon." Dox chuckled awkwardly, knowing that Mona Gonadie was absolutely thinking about kids, but that was getting off topic so Dox came back to the subject at hand.

"As far as the tribunal, the Captain believes my Mother might be a factor. One of the Baronesses is a Romulan woman. Sienae Nei'rrh of the Romulan Refugee Corps. Her and most of her crew owe their freedom to the Forager. Apparently. they were among the many refugees we smuggled off of Romulus."

Looking out into the simulated void as she talked, Dox continued. "Apparently, the Artan Family was a fairly regular client. The Captain's Mother and mine have a history. One we might be able to exploit, pending that I can figure out how to at least pretend to make nice with her."

Pausing, Paris eyed her friend with a dubious expression. "It's all an exchange for them- I will do this for you, if you do that for me. You don't have to play nice with your mother. You just have to motivate her, and that's a very simple matter of tugging on her all-consuming self-interest." Looking up, the first officer's expression quirked. "I guess that is a LOT easier to see from an emotionally removed perspective... once again, Sonak was right."

"He usually is, isn't he?" Dox replied. "She wants two things. Her freedom and me out of Starfleet and back with her. The Captain is going to talk with Intel command about being able to use her for the tribunal. And as long as it's above the board and officially sanctioned, I'll do what I can to convince her to help."

"Would she settle for her freedom and a better relationship with you?" Rita asked earnestly as they walked, moving past the sensor pod, just above which was fire control for the underside of the saucer section.

"I hope so. I have no idea, really. But we need her. When Baroness Sarika was here to update the Captain on the status of the Tribunal, she provided information that indicated the possibility that the Captain's Mother is feeding information to the Orion Syndicate. If we had any proof it could effectively end the Tribunal in the Captain's favor." Dox continued.

"We need someone with the ability to infiltrate the Queen's ranks. Someone she once trusted. But I'm officially listed as a Baroness for the tribunal. I'm afraid my Mother will be useless... unless the Captain's Mother has reason to believe my Mother and I are in opposition."

"So you're aiming for a team-up double-cross? That's tough to pull off with someone you trust, forget about someone who's recently proven to you that you can't trust them," Rita observed as she strolled around the Deck 10 sensor pod, eyeing the three phaser turret emplacements. "We could take a closer look, but I don't recognize those phaser emitters, do you?"

With a slight chuckle, Dox replied. "Yeah... I still have no idea how I'm going to pull any of that off. I'm... Stressing out a little about it." But then she focused on Rita's other question, stepping up to the phaser turret. "Hmm... I would have to double-check the specs... but I read them over earlier and I think they replaced the phaser turrets with Andorian tech. She's got a lot of modern modifications to the weapons and warp drive."

"Pretty sure from the power output specs I read that she's got a dual-core in here, one for ship's power and one devoted to weapons and shields. She's very determined to wreak the maximum amount of havoc as efficiently as possible," Rita observed strolling over to the ball turrets where the barrels that stuck out of them were definitely not Starfleet phasers, whatever they were. "I'll have to familiarize myself with the Andorian blasters- don't know why they are here, but I don't want to miscalculate between crippling and deadly force in the middle of a firefight. Looks like the standard three dual emitter banks down here. So if we roll over to expose the underbelly it's a less armed facing, which will be unexpected."

"Let's go look topside," Rita remarked, stepping off in that direction. "I want to verify the rear emitters, and check on that roll bar- I think you've given me an idea there."

Sailing slightly, Dox followed. Rita Paris having an idea gave the young Romulan officer comfort. She knew that Rita was going to be the key factor in them both winning this upcoming encounter and doing so without sacrificing either the Captain's conscience... or her own. "What are you thinking?"

"I am thinking that maybe, just maybe, that roll bar could be used as a trap. Apparently, Mommy Dearest's starship literally has ramming spikes, she is so fond of that tactic which, frankly, I can see as a very valid shock and awe tactic. So why don't we pre-rig the roll bar to make a tempting target? It is another pair of fore and aft phasers... or whatever these are. It is also the fore and aft torpedo launchers."

"So were we to seem to attempt to duck under that ramming attack, and were it to impact the roll bar instead, if we plan in advance for it, we can rig it with explosive bolts. That way it can tear free without causing genuine structural damage to the Manticore. Then the pirate queen suddenly has attached her starship to it, which she'd view as an inconvenience at best. However, it would be inside her shields and in direct contact with her hull," Rita hypothesized, making up the plan as she went along. "Were that roll bar to be set instead for instead of torpedo delivery, but a massive contact ionization charge that could essentially fry the systems it is in contact with like an EMP wave. Redundant backup systems tend not to be shielded all that well, and if the roll bar has its own power supply and continues scrambling their systems, they would be dead in space, unable to shake it off."

Reaching the edge of the saucer section, Rita changed gravity planes once more and began walking up the aft of the vessel, the roll bar in question looming above her. "There's a certain poetic irony in her being hoisted by her own petard, I think. If she's ruthless and follows form, then she'll pay for it. And we can still maintain one fore and aft torpedo launcher in service, so as not to give away our strategy too soon. After all, trying not to kill her means I have to be very judicious with torpedo placement. Thoughts, Miss Dox?"

Looking up and smiling that Rita had taken her dumb idea and turned it brilliant, Dox answered. "We do that, kill her power, we can lock her crew down and beam her to wherever we want her. Force the confrontation on our terms and limit the actual firefight to a minimum."

Pointing to the torpedo launchers on the roll bar, Dox continued. "We'll need Thex on this, but we'll need to make sure the torpedo launchers are fully automated and have their own dedicated power supply for launching torpedoes. We want to make sure that it's independent of the rest of the ship so that we can blow it free without damage to the rest of the ship's power grid."

"Mmmm, not fully automated- I work with a bit of precision with my torpedoes. But certainly an autonomous power supply, for insurance that we don't blow our own plasma conduits in the process and that she'll have power to keep dampening Mother's systems. We'll also have to change the Manticore's combination code, as I wouldn't put it past her to muck with the Captain's starship. And we'll need to go over her systems with a fine-toothed comb in advance to ensure there is no sabotage. Because that's likely high on her priority list as well- strike a blow that looks like ti could be crippling and enabling sabotage under cover of that strike." For an honorable officer and a throwback who was not the least bit up on modern starship warfare, Rita understood how people thought and applied it, producing strategies that were unconventional, but sound.

"Sabotage I'm already worried about. If we're thinking about using my Mother as a spy, it stands to reason that the Captain's Mother has already thought the same. If we're planning now, she likely is too." Dox was thinking out loud as they walked the hull. "I'm already looking over maintenance reports for any abnormalities here on the Hera."

"As far as automation, didn't the Miranda's roll bar torpedo rooms load manually? We can't have crewmembers up here if..." Then Dox froze mid-thought. "Unless we do. Not for real, but if that station up there LOOKED manned to her sensors, she would never suspect what we were planning. She knows that the Captain's crew will be Starfleet. And Starfleet doesn't sacrifice people for a strategy."

"She doesn't know that, in truth, because she doesn't know that Enalia sprouted a 75-kilogram conscience. This IS the strategy meeting, and no one else knows that I'll be there. Spies or no spies, she can't be omniscient. So she doesn't know we wouldn't put people up there." Rita stepped it up to a trot, then a run, speaking as she did so. "Computer, I want to leap from the dorsal of the saucer section and land safely on the 'roll bar'. Give me 1/8th gravity when I jump, please?"

=^= Confirmed, Commander. =^=

Her running start lent her velocity, and when she reached the point of takeoff, Rita Paris launched herself into space to try to make the 18 meter leap, which she accomplished, then her momentum propelled her forward, bouncing along as she did. Hopping, skipping, jumping she worked to deplete her movement before she got over the edge, in the end, calling out, "Computer, restore my relative gravity to 1 G!"

=^= Confirmed, Commander. =^= the computer repeated again. If it knew she had miscalculated, it didn't mention it.

"That'll teach me to show off," Rita grumbled as she picked herself up and inspected herself for injuries. Then, none found, she turned her gaze to the rear of the Miranda class rollbar pod.

Smiling from the Saucer, Dox tilted her head. "Well, that looked fun." Then the portly pilot took a few steps back, realizing it was her turn to join Paris on the roll bar. "Computer, please repeat the gravity protocols from Commander Paris for myself on my mark. First mark, reduce my gravity, second mark, restore it, Please."

After a chirp, the computer replied. =^=Confirmed, Lieutenant.=^=

Breaking into a brisk run, Dox crouched into readiness to leap at the edge of the saucer. "Mark!" As she spoke, the Holodeck adjusted her own gravitational pull as she kicked off the hull. She spun over into a roll in the space between the saucer and the roll bar as she approached the surface head first at an angle.

Putting her hands forward, she yelled "Mark" again and as gravity was restored, she tucked into a roll on the surface. Overshooting slightly, her ample posterior slapped hard on the pink hull as she came to a stop. "Ow." She said with a chuckle. "I need to practice on my zero-g training a little, too." Then she stood up, righting herself and adjusting her tank top as if it were her uniform, looking to Paris to continue.

"Good landing. Starfleet distrusts mechanical handling of ordinance," Rita observed, "even in the modern day. There are still three fire controlmen reloading each of those bays I am pretty certain- two enlisted and one NCO per tube. Unless the Captain has automated them, but she's a big believer in personnel working with advanced hardware. I like the idea of using sensor shadows... I suppose we'll leave it unmanned with torpedoes in the tubes so they can be convincing, and have at least one use before they make tasty tempting bait. A good little bit of misdirection. Sneaky."

"We'll sacrifice one bay each to our ionizer, as ionization still makes controls useless until the charge has abated, even with isolinear technology and gel systems, according to Sonak. Say..." Rita stopped, stared off into space for a moment, then snapped her fingers a few times. "Hey, waitaminnit. We don't have to leave it unmanned. We'll man it with some of our boarding parties. Have a transporter unit in there, so we can have them beam onto her ship because they are inside her shields, unless they are wavemapped, which most don't. Unless she has a cloak, in which case she would. Hmmm... regardless, armed and armored marines to board her vessel and run up the hull to beat their way into her bridge works for me as well. Hopefully, these pirates of hers are made of stern stuff."

"Are you thinking the Wil'I'ms sisters?" Dox added, referring to the intimidating Klingon security officers Paris seemed to be taking a particular interest in the training of. "They seem idea for that task. They have the moves, the discipline and the presence to muscle through and reduce resistance while keeping our purpose on point."

The frosty expression was one that had never particularly been directed Dox's way, but it was a withering look that informed her before the Commander's mouth had opened to say a word that she's steered straight into it.

"No, Miss Dox. Not a single one of my security officers will be aboard the Manticore, not on the day in question, not on any day." As she spoke, it was evident that Rita was choosing to make her true feelings about the affair and the subject know with considerably less filter than usual. Apparently suggesting more Starfleet personnel had roused a defensive streak that was going to have its say. "There is absolutely no way that I would appropriate Starfleet gear or personnel for this mission, which has nothing do with Starfleet, and would not be sanctioned were Starfleet to know of it in advance."

"I will be there, because I promised the Captain that I would, as a friend. I will not be in uniform, and I will officially be on leave of absence for the duration of this Tribunal. You will be there because I have been unable to stop you from getting mired in this pirate business. The Captain will be there because this is her past haunting her. Beyond we three, I will not endanger a single solitary Starfleet personnel for this brutal bout of fanciful theater of blood and revenge. Am I very clearly understood in this regard, Lieutenant?" The tone was unmistakable- this wasn't big sister Rita, who often saw things eye to eye as equals. This was Commander Paris, who was unwilling to have anyone else dragged into the moral quagmire that was the Artan family pirate business.

Listening, Dox went ramrod straight at Rita's tone. She was slightly taken aback at it and realized she had overstepped herself and forgot her place. Paris had made it clear before her feelings on both the Captain's and Dox's own involvement in this situation and Dox forgot that for a moment and clearly screwed up by suggesting the involvement of any of the Hera's security forces.

"Aye, Commander. Understood." Dox replied at military attention now, concealing her shame at her personal failure in the moment.

"Carry on, Lieutenant," Paris said, using the traditional dismissal from attention. Dox had stiffened up being called on the carpet, now she needed her head back in the game with the knowledge that Starfleet was not going to be winning this battle between pirate matriarchs. "We'll have to assume that there will be such troopers available within the pirate crew. Which brings up another point- you mentioned spies and sabotage. We won't know any of the pirate crew, but there is one that I practically guarantee will be aboard with us, and that is a Sarika, I believe? Been active in the pirate fleet and being assigned to take our Baroness' place? Cybernetic eye and hands? If the Captain's mother is who she is painted to be, willing or not I would wager my old gold uniform that one way or another she will be the spy on the bridge, and I expect at least one assassin."

"So bear in mind that we will most likely have to be on the lookout for hostiles among us. All factors I assume will come into play, and discussion of which will stay in this room, Miss Dox. I trust you begin to see the task ahead from my perspective?" Rita had knelt, inspecting the rear mounted cannons, wondering if perhaps a different strategy might be called for, using the cannons for the ionizers and perhaps the torpedo launchers could be used to explode some spatial jamming mines to conflate the situation further.

"Aye, Commander." Dox stood with her hands behind her back, not quite at attention, but far from casual. "The Captain and the Baroness certainly seem to trust Sarika. I didn't get a sense that she was compromised directly but my interactions with her were limited. Are you thinking her cybernetics might be what's compromised?"

The young pilot was now second-guessing her thoughts and pausing a little longer between thoughts and words, not wanting to mess up again but also knowing she still had to contribute. "She's been here. I can look back over the data records to see if there were any transmission frequencies in effect that might have been missed by our basic security screens."

"Good- two set of eyes on it will be better than one. And Sarika may or may not be a spy, but her cyberware may have entirely other ideas. Frankly, it will pay to be paranoid until this entire affair is through." Paris paused at that, realizing she might have gone too far. "I'm sorry, Mnhei'sahe. It's just... this could end your career, and not over something noble, but over a family squabble amongst privateers. You joined Starfleet to get away from all that, and... I think I overreact when you and the Captain are endangering your careers. I apologize for being abrupt."

Still second guessing herself, Dox no longer trusted herself to say the right thing or balance her relationship with Paris as both her Commanding Officer and her friend properly. But she decided to be as honest as possible in the circumstances. "Thank you, Commander. I'm concerned as well. I've already almost lost too much because of this and I know I stand to lose everything. I don't want to throw my career away, now more than ever when all of a sudden I have someone else to worry about losing along with it. And I don't know how I'm going to do that and be what the Captain needs me to be."

"I'm afraid no matter how far I go, I'll never be able to get away from my past. And now I have to go right back into that world to keep the Captain from going further." Dox spoke honestly, but kept her hands behind her back to maintain her composure. "And other than trying to keep a focus on what I don't want to lose, I don't know how I'm going to do what is required of me here. But I'm committed to figuring it out."

"Then we'll do it together," Rita smiled and clasped the portly pilot's shoulder. "Rule number one is we don't drag the Hera or her crew into this quagmire with us. We've chosen to endanger ourselves, we don't endanger anyone else. Agreed, resolution past and we move on from here, plotting our course so we don't run aground or get dashed on the rocks?" Rita did love a nautical theme.

"Aye." Dox replied, trying to relax herself a bit. Her stomach was still twisted in a knot and her mind was still caught up in her concerns about what was to come. "We'll need to start running sims on the inside. Get a feel for what she flies like. And get our own actions in sync."

Thinking of the real Manticore, Dox looked up at her saucer. "There's only going to be ourselves, the Captain and Baroness von Alcott on this mission we know we can trust. You know this class better than anyone. Would it be possible for us to rig it to run the ship on automation from the bridge if we had to? I know there's a precedent for that with a Constitution Class with limited success."

"Sure. She's an old hull but the guts are modern, make no mistake. We can run her on a skeleton crew," Rita admitted. "Although that means fewer hands for repairs. And we'll have to convince the Captain to go it that way. We'll take a look at the bridge and concoct a strategy or two, but overplanning just amps up the stress level for everyone. Don't overthink it. Just like when you are flying in the dogfight, you know you can't really plan that, you just react in the moment. We take our time, we devote some thought to it, we do our research. Maybe take a practice run so we can get a feel for her. But I trust our instincts to react in the moment far more than I trust a few hundred hours in a simulator."

"We are women of action, Miss Dox. When the moment is upon us is when we truly shine."

A slight smile cracked Dox's face breaking through her introspection. "Aye. But you have to admit, I'm very good at overthinking." Dox joked lightly before getting back on topic. "So, we know she's going to be going for kill shots and we aren't. We need to turn that into an advantage. It means she'll likely be on pure offense I imagine."

"If I understand the core conflict here, she needs to defeat Enalia to enforce her will upon her. remember, with a personality like this, it's about control, bringing the other party to heel. Brain dead and on life support but capable of spitting out an heir is fine." Noting the younger officer's look of horror, Rita rolled her eyes. "Snippet of something I overheard my father telling my brother at Christmas one year. Father of the year, but hey, he taught me all about narcissists and manipulative personalities. Long and short, she'll have a few plans in action. We need to have a transporter lock jammer on the Captain's person, for instance, in case she tries beaming through our shields."

"Absolutely," Dox replied. "Keeping the two far apart is a priority. And since she knows the Captain knows about her penchant for ramming, we will need to be prepared for other tactics. She may go off script there so I'll see if I can get more data on her techniques."

"Talk to the Captain to ask about her mother's tactics if you like, but do NOT discuss our strategies with her- understood? In the heat of battle she's going to leave it to us, and again, nothing discussed in this room leaves it- loose lips sink ships, Miss Dox- understood?" It was a bit overboard to not let the captain in on their plans, but the fewer people who knew, the better. That's how secrets were kept, after all.

"Understood, Commander." Dox replied with a thoughtful expression. "Though I'm hoping she won't press the issue and order me to."

"Cap'n knows better," Rita replied. "She's hoping that we are working in the background to pull off a miracle for her on the battlefield, assuming this can't be headed off some other way, which I'm afraid it can't. But we can make sure that in the end, her hands- and ours- are clean of blood."

Sighing, Dox replied. "Unfortunately, I think you're right about that. There's a hope that if we can find proof that the Captain's mother is working with the Orion Syndicate that it would end things right there. The Baronesses insist that it's their one, unbreakable rule and that it would take away all of her support."

"I'm not so confident. I feel like if her Mother is willing to work with who's supposed to be the Artan's primary enemy, there will be others that support her regardless. Others that are likely bristling being Privateers instead of Pirates." The young Romulan pilot shared her concerns with her Commander. "Still, if there's even a chance that it could circumvent this becoming violent it's worth exploring."

"I am in full support of this plan," the buxom bombardier agreed. "Whatever I can throw behind it, let me know, and it's yours. A plan overcome by trial evidence would be greatly preferable to some moronic duel in space like kids playing pirates 700 years after the fact. Failing that, we'll keep working on our moronic duel plans. Although... who told you about that 'working with the Orions' thing?"

"Technically, nobody." Dox replied, walking as she spoke. "Sarika was updating the Captain and Baroness von Alcott of a recent incident where the Romulan Baroness had lost several ships in an attack on the Orion's that went bad. Suspiciously bad, in my opinion."

Then Dox gestured with air quotes as she continued. "Afterwards, the 'queen' stepped in to get revenge for the Romulan's. The Romulan's that are currently a swing vote that could be instrumental in the tribunal. And this all happened far too shortly after I was officially made a Baroness. I felt like the timing was too coincidental. This led to a discussion that there have been a few coincidences since the Captain petitioned for a tribunal. The Captain and Schwein confirmed that there were other clues that pointed to some level of collusion but that there's no proof."

"So I suppose I posited the idea and the Captain and Schwein backed it up. Now we're trying to work up a plan to get someone on the inside to try and get proof, which is where my Mother might come in." Then Dox's tone shifted. "Unless Sarika is compromised, in which case the Captain's Mother will know that that's the plan. In which case we'll need a backup plan."

"Unless there is no proof, and it's a setup she's orchestrating to disgrace Enalia and sway more of the baronesses to her side. That's something Clifford would have done," Rita explained. "Dear old Dad, the original 'Commander Paris'. My insight into 'why people are shitty and untrustworthy'."


Sighing, Dox replied. "A lot of supposition in every direction. And every direction feels like it's going to bring us right back here. On the Manticore preparing for a battle. With everything that's going on, I feel like no matter what happens at the Tribunal, she's going to force this fight to happen."

"We'll run ourselves in circles trying to out-scheme her, but that's her arena. This is ours. I remember one of the professors at the Academy in philosophy. She talked about... what was it..." Dox paced slightly as she thought. "It was something about how a good mind could only predict the actions of an evil mind so far without becoming that itself. But I figure the reverse might have something to it."

"Her mother will be able to predict what the Captain could do. Maybe even me. But it's like you said... Not you. You could ride on the bow in your golden EVA suit waving a Starfleet flag and she'll still never believe the lengths you will go to do the right thing. She won't be able to predict you. She'll see your desire to not kill her as weakness."

"What she won't expect, Miss Dox, is US," Rita corrected. "Because as much as you may stray, at heart, you're a Starfleet officer too, just like me. And you don't want to kill her any more than I do. She'll know Enalia's sneaky and devious, and she'll know that she doesn't want her dead. I suspect she'll try to trump Enalia more than once before the tribunal is over, through political maneuvering, some hostage-taking, blackmail, you name it. But I agree... it's most likely going to come down to this. Ship to ship combat, because that's what pirates like to do- big bloody spectacles set to stirring orchestral music."

"This we can prepare for. This we can outmaneuver her in. Because her lifetime of experience doesn't stack up against Enalia's knowledge of her tactics, your skill and my unpredictability. Because she is the only one she can trust, and we've got each other. That's the strength of Starfleet- we never stand alone." It wasn't the best of speeches, but it still rang true for Rita, at least, and she hoped it could inspire Dox as well.

For her part, the red-headed Romulan looked up at the simulated saucer of the refit Miranda class starship. "I feel like there's a metaphor here, Commander. With the Manticore. Tech upgrades and a paint job don't make her not a Miranda class Starship. Starfleet at heart. It's like you said... that's how we'll win this. As Starfleet. You, me AND the Captain."

“Indeed, Miss Dox, indeed. Starfleet at heart.”


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